Tuesday, April 25, 2017

send in the clowns

The group pictured below got together at the White House last week.

Collectively, they are worth a lot of money. Sara Palin is the poorest of the bunch, and she is worth $12 million. Donald Trump isn’t sure exactly how much he is actually worth, but it’s fairly certain that he knows the ruble/exchange rate.

Collectively, though, what the groups does NOT have is dignity and class, which are things that money simply can’t buy.

Send in the clowns?

Don’t bother.

They’re already here.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

well, I'll be a monkey's uncle

The phrase shown above first surfaced in 1925, shortly after the ending of the trial officially known as the State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, but more commonly known as “the monkey trial”. 

In 1925, Tennessee’s Butler Act made it illegal to teach human evolution in any state-funded school. Scopes deliberately incriminated himself so that the case could have a defendant, and eventually was found guilty and fined $100, a verdict that was overturned on a technicality. 

Eventually, the case went to trial, and it attracted some big name lawyers. William Jennings Bryan, a three time Presidential candidate, argued for the prosecution, and Clarence Darrow spoke for Scopes. Although the trial technically was a defeat for the fundamentalists and creation theory, anti-evolution legislation was not challenged again until 1965. Even today, 14 states, including Arizona, Texas, and Tennessee, use tax dollars to teach creationism in at least some of their schools. 

The monkey trial came to mind this week as I monitored a biology class at a local high school. The instructor had 3 different biology text books to choose from, and all of them covered evolution extensively, in articles that ran from 50 pages up to almost 100. 

Even today, there is not universal agreement on evolution. According to the latest Gallup poll, roughly 40% of our population simply does not believe in evolution. That may seem surprising, until you consider the fact that 20% of the population believes that the moon landing was faked, 30% of the population believes that the Bible is literally true, and more than 40% of the population believes that the earth is less than 10,000 years old. Additionally, more than half the population believes that global warming is a hoax, and was not caused by human activity. 

If you are in that group that believes that the Bible is literally true, I would invite you to take a short Bible quiz. Don’t panic. It is an open book quiz. 


For centuries, there was a conflict between religion and science. In the 1400’s, Copernicus developed a philosophy called heliocentric, which states that the Earth revolved around the sun. In the mid-1550’s, Galileo also publicly proclaimed this philosophy, but was roundly criticized by the Catholic Church, who maintained that the sun revolved around the Earth. When Galileo refused to accept the Church’s teaching, he was condemned as a heretic, and was placed under house arrest for the rest of his life. It was not until 1922 that the Catholic Church admitted that they were wrong.  

Today, there apparently are few points of disagreement between science and the Church, as evidenced by the fact that Pope Francis stated last fall that global warming is a sin, and protecting creation is a work of mercy. In October, he also stated that science and faith are not at odds:


(Although the position held by the Catholic Church is similar to the position of other churches, there is not universal acceptance of the theory of evolution, and the most conservative sects are the least likely to believe in evolution):


Sadly, our politics have gone in the opposite direction. 

During the Nixon administration, legislators on both sides of the aisle approved the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, and they also created the Environment Protection Agency. There is currently a bill pending in Congress to eliminate the EPA altogether, which makes no sense at all. 

Some of today’s politicians believe that global warming is a hoax, and some of them even believe that global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese, possibly due to the fact that the Chinese are now the world’s largest producer of solar panels (but still the world’s largest consumer of coal). 




In February of 2015, Senator Jim Inhofe (who was then the chair of the Environment and Public Works committee) brought a snowball to the Senate floor to support his theory that the Earth is actually getting colder, not warmer. 

On March 29 of this year, the Chair of the House Science Committee (Lamar Smith) declared that the journal “Science” was not objective. 

A few years ago, I had an opportunity to watch the BBC special titled “the incredible journey of man. If you click on the links in the article shown below, it is clear that the human race is a lot older than 10,000 years, and it clearly evolved from a lower life form. 

If you view the first video, you will notice that early man bore a striking resemblance to today’s chimpanzee, so it shouldn’t surprise to know that we share 96% or our DNA with chimpanzees. For what it’s worth, we also share 60% of our DNA with bananas, which I find extremely confusing.



For those who simply do not believe that evolution is a credible theory, it’s worthwhile to read the comment of Neil Degrasse Tyson, who said, “the good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it”. 

The debate over creationism versus evolution is likely to continue long after I’m gone from the Earth, but regardless of what your opinion is, it is important to remember the words of Mark Twain, who said, “ it ain’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so”.

 What do I believe in? Well, I certainly support the theory of evolution, but I am also troubled by the fact that all of Earth’s incredibly complex organisms didn’t simply just happen, so there is probably a bit of Intelligent Design at work here as well.




Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Voting Rights Act

On March 15, 1965 (8 days after the first attempt to march from Selma to Montgomery was marred by violence committed by law enforcement officials). President Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress to urge the passage of legislation guaranteeing voting rights for all. The act was finally signed into law on August 6, 1965.


A strong part of the reason that Johnson felt compelled to address the issue was the fact that the events in Selma were captured on film by news agencies, causing outrage throughout the country. The movie “Selma” (which not enough people have seen) graphically illustrates the racial injustice that still persisted in his country 97 years after the passage of the 14th Amendment. If you have not seen the movie, you can see it in its entirety by clicking on the link below:

As a result of legislation written by the American Legislative Exchange Council, states started to pass more restrictive voting laws in 2010, and the Supreme Court ruling of June 25, 2013 further weakened the Voting Rights Act. As a result, the 2016 Presidential election was the first one that was held after the Supreme Court ruling – with disastrous results. 98 of the 100 largest newspapers printed editorials in the fall that Donald Trump was not fit to be President. In the end, Hillary Clinton received endorsements from 57 newspapers, and Trump only received endorsements from 2. Thirty five of the 98 newspapers either did not endorse any one at all, or they endorsed either Gary Johnson or Jill Stein.

Although Trump was helped to his “victory” due to the assistance of FBI director James Comey and the Russian government (which has been acknowledged by 17 separate intelligence agencies) the most significant factor that allowed Trump to win a narrow victory in the electoral college, in spite of the fact that he lost the popular vote by 3,000,000 votes, was voter suppression. Trump’s margin of victory in Michigan was a tiny 10,704 votes. In Wisconsin, it was 22,177, and in Pennsylvania, it was 67,416 votes. Although it is impossible to know exactly how many people were prevented from voting, but the article below will provide some clues:

Fortunately, the laws currently on the books have prevented further erosion of voting rights, at least for now. Federal courts declared against the redistricting on November 39, 2016, and Federal courts also ruled against redistricting in Texas earlier this week. Now that Jeff Sessions is the Attorney General (despite the fact that he committed perjury during his testimony to Congress) it is not clear that the protection will continue to exist. 


When he testified on January 10, he stated that he felt that the Voting Rights Act was intrusive, and he had no problem with voter ID laws.

Like virtually all of Trump’s cabinet picks, he is completely unqualified for the position that he was nominated for, a point that Elizabeth Warren brought home when she attempted to read Coretta Scott King’s 1986 letter.


There is strong suspicion that Preet Bharara was fired to prevent him from investigating Trump’s finances, which would constitute obstruction of justice, and would certainly be an impeachable offense. Coupled with Trump’s declining mental state, as well as growing evidence of interference by the Russia government, it is quite likely that Trump will be impeached before he is in office for a year.

However, that is not what would be best for the country.

What we actually need is a thorough and independent investigation into the collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. If it is as comprehensive as all of the intelligence agencies suspect, than the only possible remedy is to void the results of the election, and appoint Hillary Clinton as the next President of the United States. Since Donald Trump was sworn in on January 20, she would technically be the 46th President of the United States. As a result, our country would be significantly safer, and we could all sleep better at night.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

the power of pig poop



The last time that our family participated in the RAGBRAI was in July of 2011, just before our move to Arizona. If you would like to read more about that trip, just click on the link below: 

I thought about that trip just the other day when I came across a key chain that had a little pink pig attached to it, which led to the title shown at the top of this page.

As I passed some riders on a steep decline on the 2nd day of the ride, I passed by an adjacent large hog farm, which literally took my breath away. By coincidence, I had met a couple from St. Louis who had created a way to change hog slurry into a replacement for foreign oil. One of the end products they had developed was asphalt, and numerous other companies around the country have also developed similar procedures. The liquid residue from 10,000 hogs can produce 1000 gallons of oil a day, and there are an estimated 15,000.000 hogs living in the state. Those same 10,000 hogs, by the way, produce as much waste as a town of 25,000 people. The slurry ponds used to hold pig waste can be enormous, and can be as large as 4 football fields. To get an idea how really big they are, come join me on a flight over a Smithfield Farms hog facility: 

 To put that in a more meaningful perspective, the hogs in Iowa produce as much sewage as all of the people in the state of California, which had 38.8 million people in 2014.

In addition to oil and asphalt, the hog slurry (when treated) can be turned into natural gas and other fuels, and can also be used as fertilizer. In addition, the converted substance can also be used to generate electricity.

By using the hog slurry for other uses, the overpowering odor of methane gas from the enormous slurry ponds can be greatly reduced, and the reduction in waste can also help to maintain the quality of drinking water in underground aquifers. 

There is an old saying, of course, is that if you have lemons, you make lemonade. If you have poop, you have to be a lot more creative. 


Saturday, January 28, 2017

It’s a matter of life or death

Ever since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010, the more conservative members of the Republican Party have been determined to repeal it, despite the fact that President Obama has been willing to work with them to modify it more to their satisfaction. On February 2, 2016, the House of Representatives voted for the 60th time to repeal the law, which brings to mind the definition of insanity. Insanity is defined as continuing to do the same action over and over again, and somehow expect different results.

The sheer stupidity of those conservative Republicans reached its peak (or its nadir) in October of 2013, when they shut down the government for 12 days in their effort to cut off funding for the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare due to the fact that it was championed by our 44th President. The 12 day shutdown cost the economy $24 billion in lost productivity, but failed to achieve its stated purpose. In addition, it caused the approval rating of Congress to drop to 9%, the lowest approval rate on record.

Its critics maintain that it is burdensome and a job killer, which is absolute nonsense. 20,000,000 people now have insurance coverage that they did not have before, and our uninsured rate is now at 11.4%, the lowest rate in our history.

As of November, 2016, our country had experienced a record 73 straight months of job growth, and the private sector has added 15.6 million jobs since Obama was sworn in. Our current unemployment rate is 4.9%, the lowest rate the economy has enjoyed since the 1950’s. The average unemployment rate for the period 1948 to 2015 is 5.81%. The peak was 10.80 in 1982, when Saint Ronnie was President, and the lowest was 2.5% in 1953, when Eisenhower was President.

The marginal tax rate in 1953, incidentally, was 92%, which means that high taxes don’t kill jobs. The top marginal tax rate in 1980 was 70%. The next year, it was cut to 69.13%, and in 1982, it was cut to 50%, which proves that cutting taxes does not lead to job growth.

After 7 years, the Republican Party still does not have a replacement plan in place for Obamacare, but with the election of our dictator in chief, they have taken the first steps to repealing the act.

According to the Washington Post, repealing the Affordable Care Act will lead to an additional 43,000 deaths a year.

In addition, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has estimated that a repeal will add $350 billion to our national debt over the next decade.

Since it appears the repealing the Affordable Care Act makes no sense at all, why do the conservatives keep pushing it? As usual, taking care of the rich guys is a priority. According to Forbes, repealing the Affordable Care Act will provide an average financial benefit to those in the top 1% of $33,000 a year. For the folks in the lower tax brackets, their tax burdens will INCREASE. A repeal could also cause 29,000,000 people to lose their health insurance.

There ARE ways to prevent this utter disaster from occurring, and the best possible way is for the citizens to get mad as hell and CONSTANTLY bombard our elected officials. Donald Trump is unlikely to last 4 years, for a variety of reasons, but the more sane members of the Republican Party will be, and they definitely need to hear from us.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Going to court can be fun !

For most of us, gong to court usually is not a pleasant experience. The last time that Sharon and I went to court (to unsuccessfully fight a bogus credit card debt) we got rear-ended on the way to the DuPage Government Center, and had to reschedule our meeting. Sharon wound up going to a local hospital to have her back pains taken care of, and the guy that hit us totaled his car.

However, not all the trips to the court house are unpleasant, and we just experienced one of those happy trips on Friday, December 16, at the government center in downtown Tucson.

Kelly and her long time friend Chris met on a website called “plenty of fish” almost exactly 5 years ago. Our initial opinion of Chris was the same one you would get when your 15 year old daughter comes home with her biker friend. He had long, kinky hair, his body was covered with tattoos, and he hasn’t worked for years. Like all relationships, they have had a few rocky moments over the last 5 years, but discovered that they had a lot of common interests, and gradually experienced a deepening of feelings towards each other.

Now, for a little background …

There are numerous organizations that will accept hair from people so that bald cancer patients will have wigs to wear, and that is why Chris had been growing his hair for 2 years by the time that we met him.

I’m not a fan of tattoos personally, but I am reminded of a quote that I saw recently, where an individual discovered that an acquaintance who was covered with tattoos was one of the nicest people in the world, but another acquaintance who attended church every single week was a despicable hypocrite.

The reason that Chris has not worked for years was that he was injured when he was serving his country (in the Navy), and he has been a "regular customer" of the VA ever since.

In many relationships, the female half is more eager to tie the knot, but our non-traditional daughter was actually the one who dragged her feet. As they approached the 5 year mark, they mutually agreed it was finally time to get hitched – so they did.

Kim Kardashion’s mega-million dollar wedding to Chris Humphries resulted in a divorce 40 days later, so Kelly and Chris had long ago decided that a big church wedding was simply not in the cards.

The other option to getting married was to go to a Justice of the Peace, which is an option that my sister Mary chose more than 40 years ago. It’s also a very popular option in Tucson , where weddings are performed on Tuesday and Friday. On the night that we went to the courthouse, there were roughly 40 other couples, some of whom were visibly pregnant, and some of whom already had children.

When it came time to witness the uniting of Chris and Kelly, our Justice of the Peace was a man named Paul Simon, who was actually a great guy. Due to the fact that we all wore Star Wars t-shirts, he decided that we were the most fun group of the evening.

When my sister Mary’s daughter got married 5 years ago, she and her hubby Thom got married outdoors deep in the woods of the San Bernadino mountains. All of the food was vegetarian, and all of the deserts were homemade pies, and it was a MARVELOUS experience.

The after-wedding dinner for Kelly and Chris was at a local vegetarian restaurant in Tucson called Lovin’ Spoonfuls, which happens to be one of the restaurants that Brian’s company delivers food for. Believe it or not, the food was FANTASTIC, and the wine was also very good. I have a feeling that Kelly and Chris are going to be a married couple for a very long time. To borrow a quote from the Star Wars series, “may the force be with you”.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Are the Finns REALLY smarter than us?

Nearly two years ago, I wrote a couple of article about why the Finns are smarter than us (one article was written in English, and the other was written in Finnish).

The topic of the quality of our K-12 school system came up in a discussion at one of the local high schools the other day, and the person who I was talking with blamed the slip in our status to the Department of Education.

Although our universities are still among the best in the world, our K-12 schools are ranked 18th in the world, and the Finns are #1, which begs the question. Are we really that bad, or have the Finns improved that much?

America has long had a history of excellent education systems. A large part of the reason that our economy is the largest in the world is that the G.I. bill allowed returning WWII vets to pursue higher education, which led to more and competitive institutions of higher learning. As recently as 1996, our K-12 system was ranked the best in the world, but by 2009, we had slipped to #18. The decline came about due to complacency and inefficiency, as well as inconsistencies among the various school systems.

The Department of Education actually didn’t exist until October 17, 1979. Prior to that time, its duties were performed by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. The Department of Education is by far the smallest cabinet-level department, with about 5000 employees, and an annual budget of around $73 billion. The Department of Health and Human Services has the largest budget, at ($869 billion in 2010), but defense is close behind, with a budget of $692 billion. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 also allowed the Department of Education to obtain some additional funds. In 2009, this act channeled an additional $102 billion to the Department of Education, but funding ceased after 2012.

After our K-12 system had slipped in ranking compared to other countries, education leaders throughout the country realized that some changes needed to be made. In 2009, the National Governors Association started to work on new standards for education, The final solution that the Governors Association developed became known as Common Core, and the standards have been adopted by 42 of the 50 states. Three states (Oklahoma, Indiana, and South Carolina) initially adopted Common Core, but have since repealed it. Significantly, Texas (which has an outsized influence on the textbooks that are used nationwide) never adopted the standards. Texas also leads the nation in the number of students are home schooled, with roughly 300,000 children in 120,000 families. Some of those children are not being educated at all, since their families believe that the will all be called up in “the rapture”.

It’s safe to say that the Common Core standards are not understood by large members of the public, some of whom feel that it is a Federally-mandated program that is being forced on them.

It’s not, and the Federal government has no control over that program, but DID provide incentives for adopting the program.

The largest group of private schools in the country is the Catholic school system, and there is also a lot of disagreement in the leaders of this group about the value of Common Core. The National Catholic Educational Association takes the position that that is nothing incompatible in the Core with Catholic education, but the U.S Council Bishops (who advised NOT voting for Donald Trump) has urged Catholic schools to be cautious about using the Common Core.

The Cardinal Newman Society, a conservative Catholic organization is anti-Core, and is writing its own standards. To further confuse matters, an organization called the National Association of Private Catholic and Independent Schools has urged its members not to use Common Core, and to use the standards that IT is developing.

Since Finland’s student population is more homogenous than ours, it was easier for them to improve their standards. In contrast, America has long been the melting pot of the world, which makes it more difficult to make sweeping changes in our educational system.

One of the main reasons for the decline in our ranking is the lack of consistency between school districts, and Common Core was created specifically to address that issue. However, since Common Core is neither universally understood, nor embraced, we will likely continue to be ranked a long ways from the best in the world for the foreseeable future.